Big Ten Football: The X-Factors That Could Prevent Ohio State from Repeating
Ohio State successfully pulled off one of the most difficult tasks in modern athletics: winning a college football national championship. What's more, the Buckeyes did it within the confines of the first-ever College Football Playoff.
The accomplishment was no easy task, but at least one thing is more difficult: doing it again.
Ohio State wasn't supposed to be here. Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending injury before the new season got underway. J.T. Barrett led Ohio State to its first home-opening loss in nearly four decades—to a pretty bad Virginia Tech team. We were supposed to crown Michigan State the champions of the Big Ten and whichever team won the almighty SEC the champions of the universe, right?
In the "good old days," the SEC was dominant, the Pac-12 and the Big 12 were on the rise, the ACC was top-heavy, and the Big Ten was awful. Almost overnight, there has been a sea change in the college football landscape. No matter the underlying reason, the Big Ten—specifically Ohio State—has benefited.
But can the Buckeyes continue to ride their amazing momentum? With such a young roster, Ohio State looks poised to be an early favorite next season. So what can derail the Buckeyes' run at back-to-back titles?
We're so glad you asked.
If You Have Two Quarterbacks...
Old-school coaching wisdom tells us, "If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one." We're pretty sure Urban Meyer will have several quarterbacks to choose from in 2015. The question becomes more about how Meyer will pick a starter for next season and whether he'll believe in his decision long enough to stick with his first choice should the Buckeyes hit a speed bump early on.
Cardale Jones wasn't supposed to play much for Ohio State this season. Heck, the guy he replaced, Barrett, was probably only going to see mop-up duty most of the year. But with Jones proving his abilities under immense pressure, the question has to be asked: If he's this good now, how good will he be next season? Can he be Barrett good or even Miller good?
Quarterback battles usually have a way of fortifying a signal-caller's psyche. Usually. And what about the loser? History has proved that losing out on the starting job can all but demolish a player's confidence and future prospects.
Right now, it looks as if Meyer is lucky to have the problem he has: too much talent at quarterback. But we likely won't know until fall camp whether this "good problem" remains as such.
Everyone handles success differently.
On one end of the spectrum, we have coaches such as Meyer. He enjoys the moment but realizes a new season is right around the corner and there's work to be done.
Unfortunately, we see the other end of the spectrum far too often. Students and fans in Columbus were so out of the control that SWAT teams were deployed with tear gas and pepper spray.
It's not just fans, either. Players sometimes have a hard time handling big victories too. Remember the video of a few Ducks players derisively singing the Florida State war chant with the words "no means no" after Oregon's defeat of FSU?
There's no way to tell how the Buckeyes will handle success this time around. Will Ohio State be able to keep its feet on the ground, or will heads swell and a sense of entitlement take over in Columbus?
We can't forget about the other program in the Big Ten that's been racking up wins over the past couple of seasons.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Ohio State is 26-3, including a 3-2 mark in postseason games. But don't look past Michigan State's accomplishments over that same time frame. The Spartans are 24-3 with a 3-0 postseason mark.
Michigan State also did something few teams have been able to do recently: It shut down the prolific Baylor offense late in a game and erased a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit with 21 unanswered points, including a winning touchdown with less than 20 seconds remaining.
If Ohio State starts to feel even the slightest bit entitled to another run at a College Football Playoff title, don't be surprised if the Spartans dole out a dose of reality to the Buckeyes next fall.
How could some guy from TSUN hope to affect the greatness that is the Ohio State University?
For the uninitiated, "TSUN" is the moniker Ohio State fans have given to "that school up north," which shall remain nameless but is located in Ann Arbor. The man given credit for the phrase, Woody Hayes, is a good starting point for our reasoning behind the addition of new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh to Ohio State's X-factors for 2015.
Hayes took over an Ohio State football program that was, by all accounts, pretty terrible. In his first season (1951), Hayes managed to lead the Buckeyes to a 4-3-2 record, finishing fifth in the Big Ten. The season ended with Michigan beating the Buckeyes 7-0 for the Wolverines' 10th victory over the previous 14 meetings. Ohio State had won just two contests during that span (with two ties).
By the following year, Hayes was beginning to turn things around in Columbus, and thus began the golden era of Buckeyes football. Unranked Ohio State shocked then-No. 12 Michigan 27-7 in 1952, and Hayes' Buckeyes won 12 of 17 meetings from 1952 to 1968.
In 1969, however, Michigan hired a former Hayes assistant by the name of Bo Schembechler. It was Michigan's turn to reverse its recent downward trend. Michigan spoiled Ohio State's perfect season in 1969, with Bo leading the Wolverines to a 24-12 win over the then-No. 1 Buckeyes.
And so it went. Seemingly every time one program fell on hard times and hired a new head coach, a reversal of sorts seemed to find its way into the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
Currently, no one could argue that Michigan isn't on the short end of things. Ohio State is 11-2 against Michigan since 2001, and the Wolverines have missed a bowl game three times in the last seven seasons—which is saying something, as Michigan made 33 straight bowl trips from 1975 to 2007. The abortive Rich Rodriguez years were followed by the less-than-fruitful Brady Hoke era in Ann Arbor.
But now, a new savior of sorts is returning to his alma mater.
Jim Harbaugh has been nothing short of successful as a head coach. At the University of San Diego (an FCS program), he was 29-6 over three years with two conference titles. At Stanford, he turned the program around and finished with an Orange Bowl win along with the No. 4 ranking in the final AP poll following the 2010 season. In four years as the helm of the San Francisco 49ers, he was 44-19, including three trips to the NFC Championship Game and one NFC title.
So, yeah, it's entirely possible Harbaugh could be the catalyst for the next nearly instant turnaround in a rivalry series that has seen more than its fair share of them.
Go ahead and take a knee, Urb.
It's been one heck of a ride since Meyer arrived in Columbus, and his 38-3 mark as Ohio State's head coach has finally delivered a national championship to the fans in Columbus.
But here's where things get sticky: The fans in Columbus were expecting a national championship before much longer. Even when Ohio State has "struggled" through seasons with two or three losses, Buckeyes fans have notoriously refused to admit defeat.
To hear any true Ohio State fan put it, the Buckeyes have never lost a game. They've given a few away, they've even had a couple stolen, but they've never actually lost.
Meyer managed to get his team to the mountaintop a season or two earlier than planned. Now what? Where does Ohio State go from here? The only goal now has to be repeating as national champions—and if there's one thing harder than climbing to the summit once, it's doing it a second straight time.
Add the pressure of everyone in the state of Ohio now expecting the Buckeyes to reach that peak next season, and the task becomes almost overwhelming.
So take a knee, coach. Catch your breath while you can.
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